Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In Stitches by Anthony Youn — 288 pgs

In StitchesIn this introspective and witty memoir, Anthony Youn, a young Korean doctor, shares the passage of his life from early childhood and adolescence to his frantic foray through medical school, culminating in his residency in plastic surgery. Though Anthony is a smart youngster and a dedicated student, he’s not very popular with his classmates during his formative years. Adding to this problem is the unending pressure from his father, a Korean immigrant who has become a successful obstetrician. After graduating high school at the top of his class, Anthony decides to go on to medical school at the urgings of his father. Despite the fact that he’s not sure he wants to be a surgeon or doctor, Anthony does exceedingly well in medical school and is also able to make a handful of cherished friends who go through the ups and downs together with him.

But what’s most pressing to Anthony isn’t the demands of medical school, but the fact that he can’t get a date to save his life. With the help of his more smooth and suave friends, Anthony finally finds himself at peace within a very successful relationship. But as year four of medical school continues, Anthony’s choice for a surgical residency is still up in the air. He works a bit in each field but finds himself unimpressed by all of them, until one life-changing evening when he finds himself at the elbow of one of the country’s most successful plastic surgeons.

Now Anthony is on a mission across the United States, learning from and practicing with some of the most renowned and eccentric plastic surgeons in an effort to complete his education and make himself eligible for residency. As he moves through the medical world, he shares his joys and failures, and comes to understand that his father’s wish for him is not so far from his own dreams. Both candid and funny, In Stitches shares Anthony’s journey from unpopular obscurity to the halls of medical artistry, and the choices he must make to get there.

This was a rather strange read for me. Though I’ve read quite a few memoirs, In Stitches was surprising because of its very brisk pace. I wanted to know more about Youn’s life, and from my perspective, it seemed like he glossed over things rather quickly. Though I admit that in writing the book this way the action was fast paced, I couldn’t help but feel like the story of Youn’s life was rushed. This breakneck pace had the curious effect of distancing me from the narrator instead of drawing me closer. Though so much was packed within the first few sections, I felt like I didn’t know him at all, which was the lamentable result of Youn’s fast-paced style.

Though I liked Youn, I found at times that he could be faintly misogynistic and sneering about women. This may have been because he was bitter about not getting any action, but the implications of his discussions about dating unattractive women in an effort to have sex just rubbed me the wrong way and made me feel a bit indisposed towards him. A lot of the first few sections were given over to his endless cogitation about his sexual urges and his attempts to get in a girl’s, any girl’s, pants. I ended up feeling that Youn was very immature, even in his reflections and digressions, and it bothered me that so much of his story revolved around his not being able to get lucky. I worried that the whole scope of this book was going to be self-absorbed and whiny, but luckily, when we moved into the second year of his medical schooling, things got a lot more interesting.

When Youn finally got a girlfriend and put his angst to rest, there were, at last, some interesting developments in the book. As he takes us on a tour of what it was like for him in medical school, the story rapidly picked up flavor and my interest. Here are the tales that I had been waiting for. The arrogant and insensitive doctors, the troubled and ill patients. Youn shares his reflections on the first surgery he attends and its unexpected outcome. He relates his experiences about being on call for days and how frazzled he was, and ultimately, he shares just what it was that made him decide to go into the field of plastic surgery. I felt that this section of the book was much more interesting and absorbing, and really felt that if the whole book had been written in this vein, it would have been a more successful read for me. It was almost as if there was an imperfect amalgamation between the two stories; one half-reflecting the same cares and woes that most teenage boys experience, and one half-filled with the exciting and fuel-laden drama of life as a medical student. It’s probably pretty clear to you which I preferred.

Though I didn’t really enjoy the first section of this book, the second half was in some ways redemptive. I guess it’s understandable for the sections that describe Youn’s adolescence to be turgid and at times immature, but I was glad when things moved on and there were more altruistic leanings to this memoir. If you’re not the type of reader to be bothered with such things, then I would recommend this book to you. It wasn’t what I had been expecting, but once the more difficult passages had been hurdled, I found myself really enjoying myself and curiously invested in the tale that Youn tells.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

18 comments:

Amy said...

Hmm sounds like an interesting book but I think I might give it a pass. The issues that troubled you in the first half would definitely bother me as well. And I tend to dislike biographies where things are glossed over or brushed under the rug and it sounds like he might do that as well. Too bad!

Jenny said...

It does sound different from what I expected. That whole immaturity you mentioned in the beginning would really bother me. I'm thinking I would want a lot more about the dynamics of the hospital and all that. And the experience of his being on call all the time sounds interesting.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I read a review of this somewhere else (of course I can't remember where) and saw the book trailer. He isn't a bad looking guy, so I questioned what the issue was. And you just answered that. He did seem a little hyper as well. Although I'd offer that 90% of teenage and young adult boys are pretty obnoxious about getting laid, even if they are getting action. I guess at least he is being honest!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Eueueue, that's disgusting about dating ugly women to get into their pants. Maybe women could sense that attitude and that's why he wasn't getting dates!

Aarti said...

I can definitely see why you think Youn was immature, based on what he spent so much of this book focused on! I thought this would be more of a book on the difficulties of being a plastic surgeon, helping people's self-esteem in some ways but also really making people more shallow and messed up, like that girl Heidi from The Hills... but instead, it's about his sexual frustration? Pass.

Suko said...

Thank you for your honest review, Zibilee. It doesn't sound like my cup of tea.

Trisha said...

Oh that whole having sex with unattractive women thing is grating on my nerves, and I didn't even read the book!

bermudaonion said...

I'm a little disappointed to see the beginning of the book is all about the author's sexual frustrations - a little of that goes a long way for me.

Jenners said...

I think my feelings would be similar to yours. We've heard about teenage angst before...tell me about medical school!

Vasilly said...

This sounds like an interesting book but not the one for me. I would love to read about his father's life though. Going from an immigrant to a ob/gyn makes me want to know more about him.

Beth F said...

I suppose one could skim over the beginning parts when they became too much. Sometimes too much revelation is, well, too much.

Audra said...

Fabu review. I decided a long while ago to pass on male doctor memoirs after reading about Louise deSalvo putting her husband through medical school (and his subsequent affairs and bad behavior). Perhaps the chops it takes to be a doctor means you've got to turn off part of yourself -- or maybe emphasize your confidence -- but I'm not surprised so much of the book was abt Youn's insecurity and desire for connection.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Beautiful review for a less than beautiful book. Sorry it didn't quite pan out, even though it seems like it had potential. Shame. Though, I'm not a big fan of memoirs, in general so this might not have caught my eye to begin with. Again, great review, even though it didn't quite work out!

Amy said...

I've read a few other reviews of this book but yours gives me the best idea of what to really expect if I read this memoir, which I probably won't. I think many plastic surgeons are arrogant and jerky towards woman, at least about their bodies. I know that's a huge generalization but, unfortunately, it seems to fit Anthony Youn. Although I'd like the same part of this book you did. I think I'd rather read a different medical memoir.
Thank you for another wonderful and honest review!

Geosi said...

I see where the problem lies, often books written in that faced paced style seems to lack certain details that would drift you towards the characters. Could be a good read though!

Darlene said...

Well I'm glad the novel turned around for you and you enjoyed it after all. Not sure this is the type of thing I'd enjoy though.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Very interesting - I'm not sure I would have stuck with the book at that hectic pace (which does, as you indicate, create a distance).

I'm glad the memoir picked up in the second half -- perhaps Youn needed that distance from his past in order to write about it (?)

(haha, and thanks to Rhapsody's comment I now know how to spell "Eueueue!")

Nymeth said...

Eep. I'm glad the book got better in part two, but I don't think I'd like Youn much at all. I can understand feeling lonely and frustrated because you can't get a date, but I hate the sexist sense of entitlement with which some men react to that. I'm sorry, but women don't owe it to you to satisfy your "urges", and resenting them for it is not going to help you at all [/soapbox].

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